Study Made Easy

Winning Over the Three Poisons in Life

Study made easy.

Photo by GETTY IAMGES / GRUIZZA.


Anyone can see that there are serious issues looming over our world today, and though many strive to find solutions to these issues, few try to get to the root of the problems.

Observing the intense suffering of the people in his day, Nichiren Daishonin sought to do just that—find the root cause of people’s suffering.

Seven years after declaring his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren presented his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” to the retired regent Hojo Tokiyori, the most powerful figure in Japan, on July 16, 1260.

Nearly 760 years later, this treatise remains a cornerstone of his teaching. In it he explains that the fundamental cause of turmoil and suffering is slander and rejection of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches universal respect for all people. He urged authorities that a return to the original purpose of Buddhism—securing the peace and happiness of the people—was vital in redirecting the course of society.

In this treatise and throughout his life, Nichiren strove to awaken people to their inherent potential and help them overcome the fundamental human tendencies of greed, anger and foolishness—known as the “three poisons,” what he calls in his treatise “three inauspicious occurrences”—that give rise to human suffering. They are called poisons, because they pollute people’s lives and prevent them from turning their hearts and minds to goodness.

“The Bodhisattvas of the Earth guide living beings to happiness at the most difficult and challenging of times.”

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, he explains the cycle of suffering caused by the three poisons and relates them to the three calamities described in the sutras, citing the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, who says: “Because anger increases in intensity, armed strife occurs. Because greed increases in intensity, famine arises. Because foolishness increases in intensity, pestilence breaks out. And because these three calamities occur, earthly desires grow more numerous and powerful than ever, and false views increasingly flourish” (p. 33).

Greed causes people to be driven by insatiable desires, resulting in delusions about oneself and the environment. This drive to put one’s own desires above the needs of others leads to the calamity of famine.

Anger causes one to despise others and harbor resentment toward one’s own life, thereby leading to delusions about oneself and others. This ultimately brings about conflicts between people and the calamity of warfare.

And foolishness results from being controlled by emotions, impulses and instincts, blinding people to how their actions impact or harm others, and perpetuating ignorance of the law of cause and effect. This manifests as a lack of harmony between body and mind, and leads to the calamity of pestilence, or epidemics—the spread of mental and physical illnesses.

Thus, the root causes of famine, warfare and pestilence can be traced back to the human mind. SGI President Ikeda aptly describes the Latter Day of the Law, an age when the world is mired in the three poisons, as follows:

It is a time when arbitrary and unfounded personal interpretations of the truth in the realms of thought and religion will prevail, when inferior ideas will obscure superior ones. It is also a time of great confusion about the proper object of devotion, that which is to be fundamentally respected. All-important human and social values will be lost and spiritual foundations will crumble. It is in such a troubled time, the Daishonin says, that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear and bring the “medicine of the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo” to the people of the Latter Day who are ignorant of the ultimate truth of the Mystic Law (see “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 375). (July 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 45)

In the Lotus Sutra, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerge as “the ones who had thoroughly forged their resolve” (“General Stone Tiger,” WND-1, 953) to spread and carry out the practice of the sutra in the troubled age of the Latter Day of the Law. And they are described in the sutra as being “firm in their intent and thought, with the power of great perseverance” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 256).

In order to break through tendencies steeped in the three poisons, we need to forge strong conviction in the philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism, which teaches the importance of showing abiding respect toward ourselves and others while remaining steadfast in the face of obstacles.

President Ikeda explains further: “The Bodhisattvas of the Earth guide living beings to happiness at the most difficult and challenging of times. The members of the Soka Gakkai are these courageous Bodhisattvas of the Earth. While grappling with their own sufferings and problems, they dedicate their lives to the mission of kosen-rufu, carry out their human revolution and forge strong selves that aren’t defeated by any of life’s struggles. They do all of this while making positive contributions to society” (July 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 43).

By powerfully chanting and spreading Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we dispel the dark clouds cast by the three poisons as we limitlessly bring forth the compassion, courage and wisdom to illuminate our lives and society—this is what it means to “establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land.”

(p. 9)